July 4, 2015


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Capital Chronicles

Courage on display

I had one of those moments today.
I was sitting on the floor of a pomp and circumstance room at Rideau Hall in Ottawa as 48 soldiers were given various awards and medals, mostly for things they have done in Afghanistan.
It is the same room where cabinet ministers are sworn in. A room where the old school history, the grey-blue walls and gold-painted cornices are in sharp contrast to the brightly coloured folk painting on the wall that I’m sure Jean picked herself.
But far from being just a boring ceremony watching Jean’s skill at pinning medals on soldiers dressed in the military best, the morning reminded me that as I was planning out the activities for my long-weekend there is a war going on where Canadians were risking their lives at that very moment.
I was sitting just a few feet away when Michaelle Jean had to give a medal to Megan Stewart, whose husband, Jonathan Snyder, was killed last June. I couldn’t help but think how surreal it must be for Stewart to be standing up there with all those soldiers, the only one not in uniform.
I wondered if she was thinking the entire time it should have been her husband standing there instead.
She should have been sitting over among the family and friends who looked on with pride as their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers were recognized for amazing things like saving comrades from certain death or helping make the life of an Afghan child a lot better.
But she wasn’t.
She should be planning for her first Valentine’s Day as a married woman – she and Snyder were living common-law but were to have been married in December.
But she isn’t.
I have written several times about Afghanistan. Every time I hear another soldier has died it does make me pause and think for a moment. But for the most part, I go about my day to day life without thinking much, if at all, about what is happening "over there."
I doubt the same can be said for Megan Stewart. Or Officer Cadet Sarah Keller, who accepted the Medal of Military Valour on behalf of her husband, Corp. Bryce Keller, who died Aug. 3, 2006.
Keller was in her own military uniform this morning and tried bravely not to cry as she spoke with Jean, who is known to have deep compassion and kind words of comfort for the families of fallen soldiers.
Sarah Keller blinked a lot and nodded in response to Jean’s questions.
"I’m okay," she said, as Jean reached out and touched Keller’s arm. "It’s hard."
Hard indeed.
I hope those two women realize that they may have been accepting those medals for the courage of their husbands, but that they are also a symbol of their own courage. They may not have been "over there" but that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of those medals.

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